The African country is sending record numbers of children to the U.S.
NEW YORK — As the overall number of international adoptions by Americans plummets, one country — Ethiopia — is emphatically bucking the trend, sending record numbers of children to the U.S. while winning praise for improving orphans’ prospects at home.
It’s a remarkable, little-publicized trend, unfolding in an impoverished African country with an estimated 5 million orphans and homeless children, on a continent that has been wary of international adoption.
Just six years ago, at the peak of international adoption, there were 284 Ethiopian children among the 22,990 foreign kids adopted by Americans. For the 2010 fiscal year, the State Department projects there will be about 2,500 adoptions from Ethiopia out of fewer than 11,000 overall — and Ethiopia is on the verge of overtaking China as the top source country.
The needs are enormous; many of Ethiopia’s orphans live on the streets or in crowded institutions. There’s constant wariness, as in many developing countries, that unscrupulous baby-sellers will infiltrate the adoption process.
However, a high-level U.S. delegation — led by Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., and Susan Jacobs, the State Department’s special adviser on children’s issues — came back impressed from a visit to Ethiopia last month in which they met President Girma Wolde-Giorgis.
“What’s encouraging is they want to work with us, they want to do it right,” Jacobs said in a telephone interview. “Other countries should look at what Ethiopia is trying to do.”
The global adoption landscape has changed dramatically since 2004. China, Russia and South Korea have reduced the once large numbers of children made available to foreigners while trying to encourage domestic alternatives. There have been suspensions of adoptions from Guatemala, Vietnam and Nepal due to fraud and corruption.
In contrast, Ethiopia has emerged as a land of opportunity for U.S. adoption agencies and faith-based groups. Several have been very active there in the past few years, arranging adoptions for U.S. families while helping Ethiopian authorities and charitable groups find ways to place more orphans with local families.
Buckner International, a Dallas-based Christian ministry, has about three dozen Ethiopian children lined up for adoption by U.S. parents, but it’s also engaged in numerous programs to help Ethiopia build a domestic foster care system.
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